P.O. Box 143
Dear Judge Klim
My scheduled summer vacation with Domenic is over, but I spent my time in jail. I hope this letter will allow you to shorten my sentence so I can see Domenic soon. I still have a lively hope of what God and the future can bring! So much can change in a single day. So much has changed since you put me in prison on June 28th.
A seven-year old boy missed a summer of joy with a parent he loves very much. A loving parent was denied the chance to comfort and nurture their child. An 84 year old widow spent a summer alone -- celebrated a birthday alone in an empty home, without her son or grandson. I asked the family doctor to write you, my mother's weight dropped from 107 to 102 in little over a month. Do you know if she will have another summer to spend with me or her grandson? My business had to delay a planned expansion into better office space. We had to decline very good terms offered by our present landlord. Two dedicated members of the business had to sacrifice their own vacation plans to keep things running in my absence. Why?
Request for Mercy
Since the day of sentencing, in over seven letters, I have pleaded with you for mercy, to at least allow just a delay in the sentence. In Christian tradition we hear that, "mercy triumphs over judgment." Why could there be no mercy here? Will you be able to grant this request?
I have struggled in writing these words. I have tried to keep in mind what for me is the ultimate reality: We are both brothers here, both parents. All children of the same God who loves each of us. When we hurt each other, it is done from ignorance. At time I feel anger and contempt toward you, but as I have said before, I know I should treat you with courtesy and respect. That when you acted you only did what you thought was right at the time. But yet, we can both see much suffering here. I will share with you my thoughts, brother, because in good conscience I disagree with your actions and hope that with introspection -- you may reconsider.
The Common Answer
Why all this? Why the pain for others? Why no delay, no mercy? Excuse the presumption, but from my past experience of hearing the answers of others, I will try to answer for you:
"The pain caused to those around you was your fault Mr. Murtari, a consequence of your actions, your decisions. I was just following the law. I too feel sorry for Domenic and your mother, but you are persistent in your actions and refusal to obey Court orders. That is why I said, 'The question is not best interests of the child...' when I denied your delay. I also don't agree with your attitude and what you are doing regarding Family Law Reform. You don't seem afraid of jail, by not delaying your sentence and stripping your family of time together -- I hoped you would change and conform to the benefit of all. Like I said, 'you need a wakeup call with respect to what you are doing and the consequences they are having on your son.'
Also, like so many business people that come into my Court, you may have been hiding income or assets. Maybe knowing the pain your mother and son were going through would help you find the $20,000 in arrears. You could have gotten out if you paid that. It also make the sentence conditional, if you don't pay you serve the whole six months, no good time. I feel bad if you don't really have it, and honestly, there wasn't any evidence at trial, or even an allegation, that you did -- but again, not having the money was your problem. If you would have just done what the orders directed, you would have had it. You had a chance to avoid all this.
Reform the system -- well, it may not be perfect, but it's the best we have right now and it has to be obeyed. The case load is heavy and I don't always have the time I want to review matters, but decisions have to made to keep things moving. A long delay is just as bad as no justice at all. I try to give people time to state their sides and then I try to fairly decide their fate and that of their children.
In your case the facts were simple, you weren't obeying a valid order of the Court -- jail! Did you want me to make a special exception for you and your cause? It's not my fault you ended up in my Court, or in the "system", as you call it. You and your spouse could have settled this all yourselves, but you couldn't. The system had to decide and it did -- that's the way it is. "
Judge, I hope I did justice to your thoughts. Really, those words don't sound that bad. You weren't trying to hurt me or Domenic or my mom -- in fact you were trying to help. There was no "evil man" at work here or a "divorce conspiracy" trying to deprive me of my rights. You were just doing your job. So we have the thesis of "reform", and the anti-thesis above, what is the synthesis? What we both said was true and from our hearts. How can we now move forward?
As we examine the words we both used, what do we have? The pain of separation for parent, child, and grandparent. I'm constantly reminded by professionals that I should not be too emotional when preparing legal papers. Imagine that! A parent is denied the right to nurture their child, has had to time and time again watch their child cry as their short "visits" end, is denied the right to work as they desire to support their family, imprisoned -- and then told not to be "emotional" Has the system made us numb to the suffering it causes right before our very eyes, or do we prefer not to see and feel?
The Issue is Civil Rights
Perhaps not so unusual when we consider history and the practice of slavery for century after century. People and families treated as property, beaten, bought and sold, and used as breeding stock! A pervasive institution, not even questioned by Jesus of Nazareth or the great apostle Paul. Imagine, only 150 years ago you could read Supreme Court decisions that people were 'chattel." The cruel Fugitive Slave Law was the law of the land.
Judge Klim, what would you have done if a slave escaped to your jurisdiction and was captured? Would you have promptly obeyed the law and legal precedence and returned him to slavery and even death? Many, many Judges did (they may very well have believed in what they were doing, or perhaps just weren't willing to risk their career), but there were a few who did resist.
How about Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1950s and segregation. Similar questions could be asked about those laws. Would you have been tough on Ms. Rosa Parks for intentionally refusing to sit in the back of the bus?
How do we treat a parent who is refusing to take a seat in the back of their child's life? Please understand, I'm not condemning the Judges of our past or present -- they were just caught up in a system they did not create. But one could imagine a wide range of personal feelings among them. Those that would enforce the "law" with enthusiasm, versus those who did it with regret. There would be some who had begun to sense the basic injustice of the "law" and try to extend mercy. Unfortunately for Domenic, my mother, and I -- you do not share those feelings of mercy. I hope that will change.
Morality of Law
Do we all need a reminder that a law, including one approved by a majority, is not always just or worthy of any moral authority. If slavery is not enough, how about the ravages of Nazi Germany? Have we forgotten that Hitler and his agenda had the support of the people?
The common response to all this is usually, "Yes, that is all fine and good, but doesn't really apply here. This is about support. Our modern system of Family Law, Support Collection, and Child Protective Services always has the best interest of the child at heart." Do the good intentions of government override that inalienable right of "family" that belongs to parents and children?
We may have to learn the lessons of history again. Prior to the American Civil War there were many political, religious, scientific, and legal scholars who defended slavery as humanitarian. As doing what was best for people who really couldn't survive on their own. In some cases they would be proved right; some freed slaves and their children suffered and died during the transition. But one can only imagine modern social workers transported to that same time saying, "Well, okay, release one parent to freedom, but keep the other and the children in slavery until we see how it goes. A case worker will evaluate each couple and we'll get a psychologist's recommendation prior to releasing them." It sounds all too possible! After all, we just have the best interests of the child at heart. We would still have slaves now!
Need for Protections
What overrides the "good intentions" of slavery, the fact one of their most basic human rights was being violated. In the United States if you are facing punishment that carries at least a six month prison sentence, you have the right to a jury of your peers. Who must hear the facts and all be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt -- that you are guilty. You are presumed to be innocent. Yet in a Family Court a single Judge can separate a parent and child for almost 18 years.
Isn't the time approaching when we will all realize we need a strong presumption of equal contact with children for parents? That a parent whose relationship is threatened has the protection of a jury -- and the government must prove they are not just a slightly poorer parent, but unfit to parent. We need to eliminate the zero sum game of present proceedings where there is a winner and a loser (and the child always loses). Taken to the extreme, in a situation with two parents who are identical in every characteristic, except one only finished high school and the other has a master's degree -- does the college grad make the better parent? Do we relegate the other parent to the role of visitor? We should hope not.
But regarding the matter at hand of support, how do you feel about these words, "...the Defendant has voluntarily chosen to decrease his income ... to spend more time during the day with Domenic ... business income is unable to support family obligations ... The time spent on volunteer work, no matter how commendable, could be better used producing income."
Judge Klim, those words and the very subjective opinion they were based on (made by Judge Major during my divorce) have provided the foundation for subsequent support proceedings. They have destroyed me financially. Do you still expect blind obedience? Was I supposed to even give up volunteer work? Is the power of government that pervasive? Have I lost the ability to show my son that actions speak louder than words? That when we give and work for charity, we sometimes have to sacrifice ourselves?
As you can see, I am quite sincere in my efforts to not only reform the system in general, but also regain an equal relationship with my son. Can you believe the following words delivered by another Judge, "... let me say Mr. Murtari that if you put all your effort, if all the efforts you had in reforming the system, if you directed these efforts specifically in paying child support your life and Domenic's would be much getter ... you need a wake up call to what you are doing"
Those were your words Judge Klim, should your power be that pervasive? Again history, William Lloyd Garrison was a famous abolitionist who published "The Liberator" for well over 30 years. It seriously limited his income and the "money" he could give his children -- but they received much more than that by what we did. Are those options no longer valid in our modern system?
This specific case is about a parent who came from a poor family and saw a different balance between material and emotional prosperity. A family that was rich in love and affection. I, John Murtari, wish to share that same love and affection with my child, Domenic. Can we please stop this insanity of imprisonment.
Your honor, I will repeat a request that was made during my trial. In the interest of Justice, please call for a hearing into modification of my support level. You know that I had submitted a petition which was rejected, I believe improperly, by Hearing Examiner Davies. I recently got a letter from Judge Hedges, yet another person involved in passing, regarding this matter. PLEASE take care for me and my family. PLEASE allow a fair hearing into the facts to be held. PLEASE allow my release so I can support Domenic as he richly deserves. PLEASE.